Our family consists of a mom, a dad, two daughters, a son, a grandfather, a grandmother, 3 cats, 1 kitten, 1 puppy, 2 rabbits, and a bee hive; all of us living in the suburban rolling hills of Happy Valley, Oregon. Like a diamond, the happiness and health in our family has revealed itself through our multi-faceted striving and learning. The brilliance of who we are as a whole family unit and what our task or karma together may be is seen out rightly in our eye to eye contact, working side by side, or the silence between the moments we share.
This year after much consideration we decided to homeschool our three children. Many reasons existed. One reason was financial and another was a concern for how our children were learning. We questioned ‘What was the best way for our children to learn?’ Ultimately the decision seemed to be guided by a spiritual impetus, like a call from something higher to inquire.
12 years ago I had researched homeschooling when we lived rurally. My younger sister was the first to capture my attention for exploring another type of education as she chose to homeschool my niece and nephew for kindergarten and 1st grade.
At the time, as a Family Nurse Practitioner in Northeast Washington State I had been exposed to homeschool families. Often I’d be treating a mother and her five children would sit in the lobby studying, quiet as mice. They didn’t carry video game devices. ‘How novel,’ I thought. I was inspired and enchanted by this phenomena and the idea of being a central part of my children’s education.
Through my review of curriculum and pedagogical approaches I stumbled across natural learning rhythms and a description of the 3 fold; thinking, feeling, willing or also known as head, heart, and hand; seeing a way to educate the whole child from the inside out. I didn’t think much about it, not knowing yet about Waldorf education. A few years prior I had been introduced and began my study into Anthroposophic Medicine through a friend. It wasn’t until I moved back to the city, my hometown area, pregnant with our third child and daunted by the thought of homeschooling that I remembered something about Waldorf education. We enrolled our eldest, then later our younger two for the next nine years in a Waldorf school.
Neither my husband nor I attended private school as children, as we come from humble backgrounds, so without a financial plan we started the initial commitment of paying $400 odd sum dollars per month. At the time I was yet to set up my NP practice and my husband was re-establishing his career.
The stress of meeting the payment, even with financial assistance drove me to accept a second job, later even a third and my husband took on extra projects. In the back of my mind I remembered reading that the presence of the mother and the rhythm made in the home was essential and if the strain outweighed this then it defeated the goal of paying for a private Waldorf Education. Fortunately my children had the everyday blessing of grandparents for childcare. We managed over the years to find the money almost like magic and we are firm believers in investing in something worthwhile. We often heard that parents would take loans out for tuition. This seemed counter-intuitive so as the monthly payment approached nearly $3,000/month we had to reconsider our decision.
Like many parents we work wholeheartedly to provide the best for our children. We witnessed the value of a private Waldorf education and its ideals. Overall we rarely doubted the quality of the education, as well as knowing the teachers on the average are paid a pauper’s wage, we saw it deemed its price. Even so, we found ourselves tilting our heads of how this could be? My husband and I make a good living, both being professionals and consciously have chosen to live extendedly with my parents to minimize resources and costs. We have impeccable credit and have not mismanaged our money. We also haven’t been hit negatively by the downturn in the economy. We hold steady and increasing incomes, just not enough to match the rising cost necessary for 3 children’s education. Sometimes the joke between us is “If we knew we wanted our children to have a Steiner-based education we would have had only one.” Of course we wouldn’t ever think of trading back any one of our children.
In an ideal world Rudolf Steiner indicated that education should not cost and it ought to be accessible to all. What that might look like is another matter. Another option for Waldorf education exists in our area through a public charter called the Portland Village School, though was too far us to travel. I then, painstakingly explored other schools. I relinquished to enrolling my children in the local public school. I thought the foundation of my children’s education was solid. I had known other parents from sports and knew them to be wholesome people.
I wanted to tour the schools and have my children visit for a day, then found this was not allowed. I felt this was odd. How could I know it would be a good choice? I wondered if as an average citizen I wasn’t supposed to question the quality of the education. I’m not your typical hover parent, overbearing or overprotective, but fancied the idea in the moment. I did have the opportunity to attend a school carnival with my younger two. Sure this would show me the community, and I could meet teachers and the principal. My high-school student was permitted a 10 minute tour. Again it all felt so odd. When I asked parents why they liked the school I got strange looks and one father said he liked it because there was a computer in every room and the school scored very high state-wide for academics. I wondered, “Was their definition for good academics and mine the same? It probably was not. I started to develop a pit in my stomach. People seemed nice enough, though it didn’t feel right. How does an education truly serve the developing human being? For us, a Waldorf school had come the closest to meeting this expectation.
For many years we felt overbooked and rushed. We wondered how it would be to simplify. The more we wanted to simplify the more demanding life became. We loved our life, our jobs of service, and our community. I had heard from homeschooling moms that time seemed to open up, that two and a half hours of homeschool was equivalent to six hours of regular school. How could it be? I thought, ‘Even a private Waldorf school is an institution.’ ‘Who knows their child better than a parent?’ Another homeschool mom said children want to learn, just give then the space to freely do so.
And still another homeschool mom expressed people often zone into one facet of their lives and forget to look at the whole picture. It’s vital to start teaching our kids, when they are little, their responsibility not only for themselves, but for their relationship to others, the world around them and ultimately God. Part of that is to live a life a ‘Truth’ and that sometimes; truth is the hardest thing to admit to ourselves and others. Then all the while the ‘World’ around us continually tells us that the ‘ends justify the means.’ How can we live a truthful and loving life with that concept? Needless to say, how can our children form properly if we allow only teachers and coaches to develop our children? They may be helpful but into today’s settings how can that be true? Rudolf Steiner said ‘The teacher must be one who is true in the depths of his being. They must never compromise with untruth, for if they did so we should see how through any channels untruth would find its way into our teaching, especially in the way we present our subjects. Our teaching will only bear the stamp of truth if we are intently striving after truth in ourselves.’
In the state of Oregon about 18,000 children were homeschooled in 2008. More and more states are working collaboratively between public and homeschool sectors. There are many facets and options for the type of homeschooling one might choose from unschooling to teacher-assisted on-line programs. There are Waldorf-based homeschooled curriculums. For instance Shining Star School led by Marsha Johnson is a co-op for Waldorf family’s homeschooling here locally. Live Education is a Waldorf guided curriculum led by Rainbow Rosenbloom in California.
For us we are highly educated and have grandparents who want to help us. We don’t worry about lack of socializing our children as we are highly involved with our local community through various activities, like sports, and spiritual endeavors. I like what another past homeschooling parent said to me, ‘Really where in life in an average setting do you surround yourself with 25-30 others the exact same age?’ We live multi-generational and see the world at-large is just the same.
We’re fortunate our children have established friends and we can continue to foster the relationships. Plus there are many options of co-ops where other homeschoolers take a class or share events. Our awareness remains to avoid overbooking ourselves as a family.
In the first few weeks, to be honest I nearly rocketed out of myself. A friend told me, ‘It’s like you have moved to a foreign country,’ and absolutely I felt this. I rearranged my clinic schedule to afternoons as I chose to homeschool weekdays 9 am-noon. Daily I remember and I am inspired by the success of a fellow medical colleague and her husband who have been homeschooling their 7 children while maintaining their livelihoods….and yes they are sane!
My portion includes main lesson (covering the main subjects required of each year), foreign language, and arts. In the afternoons my mother does handwork and my father teaches music and both as well tutor all our children for reading, math, writing, and projects. Physical education is mostly taught by my husband and is incorporated with sports, horseback riding, dance, and swimming for this year. My fifth grader will likely train with his past class for the Olympiad. Eurythmy and Spatial Dynamics will be offered privately from the outside, though I am looking to connect a resource for the broader Waldorf homeschool community at-large. My high school student chose an online teacher- assisted program from Oak Meadows in Vermont, which allows for moderate amount of parent involvement overseeing assignments. Additionally she has joined the local high school Equestrian Team.
I let go of attempting to reproduce all a public or Waldorf School might offer and traded it for the intimacy and luxury of tailoring the day to what is essential for my children. One unschooling author writes that a child moving from an institutionalized school to homeschool may need to do literally nothing for many months, just to find their own natural learning rhythm again. Even though this has not been necessary for my children I am taking their cues for learning. Surprisingly there zest for learning and enthusiasm for life has opened another doorway for them.
The process has created an intense transformation for our family. It’s not without worry or frustrations. I knew we could not know the implications or insights of this choice until we entered inside the choice.
Being like barometers the feedback from our children displays the effects of our choice. My high school student says she ‘Loves homeschooling and doesn’t miss the drama of her classmates,’ even though she has fond memories of her past experiences. Our younger two are content. Other comments are ‘I like that we are at home……. I like that my mom takes the extra time with me when things are harder and we move faster when it’s easy.’ There has been less bickering among the siblings and actually a deeper bond seen as they encourage each other when things are challenging or one of them has a breakthrough of learning something new.
The experience is much richer than I could have imagined. Interestingly time has indeed opened up. When I go to work I think, ‘Wow, today I’ve already spent quality time with my children.’ As a family we have slowed down and are enjoying so many things together. We save gas money from less running around and also plan meals and groceries more efficiently. I am actually remembering what food is in the cupboard.
We had planned to homeschool for 1 year. As for now we will take one day at a time and see what wants to unfold. There are many ways to educate a child, so as the year comes to end we will look once again inside ourselves and take inventory. The health of our family is precious and through homeschooling we have regenerated our life forces. In times like this, this is worth its price in gold.